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MARBLEHEAD — If you’re wondering if kids still play with toys, the answer is yes.
The folks over at Mud Puddle Toys have proven it to be true. Not only are kids still playing with trinkets and games, but so are their parents. The toy store has been around for 15 years, and it is one of very few in the North Shore area, along with Learning Express in Lynnfield and Smart Toys in Peabody.
Walking towards the store’s stained glass doorway, customers are greeted by a whiteboard with a “joke of the day.” Friday’s humor was perfectly timed with the back-to-school mindset that hits as August nears its end.
“What do vampires wear on the first day of school?,” it read. “Their bat-to-school clothes.”
Kristen and Sam Pollard opened up the shop shortly after moving to Marblehead almost two decades ago. The husband and wife made the move to the seaside town after making friends with an older Marblehead couple during a sailing trip to the Bahamas.
Over the course of ten days, the two couples became very close, with the North Shore residents even asking the Pollards to house-sit for them while they continued their years-long sailing trip. Kristen Pollard, who grew up in Acton, and Sam Pollard, who was raised mostly in upstate New York, fell in love with Marblehead almost immediately after arriving there.
After settling into their new home, Sam Pollard decided he didn’t want to stay in the high-tech industry anymore. The couple saw two pieces of property up for sale and mulled over what kind of business they wanted to open before deciding on purchasing the space on Pleasant Street. They gained inspiration from their children, who attended The Waldorf School in Lexington at the time.
“We wanted to put in a very Waldorf-inspired toy store…,” said Kristen Pollard. “We wanted a focus of kid-powered toys geared towards creativity. My goal has always been for people to be able to come in and get toys that stir their imagination.”
The store owners make sure to steer clear of battery-operated toys and computer-generated games when buying from vendors and trade shows. Kristen Pollard said they try to rotate their products as much as they can so their store remains relevant to the ever-changing societal desires.
Legos, stuffed animals, toy model cars, and kid-friendly or adult-friendly board games are some of the only items the Pollards consistently keep in stock.
“When we started there was no Amazon, and if there was something like it there wasn’t much product to sell,” said Kristen Pollard. “You just have to evolve and I think it’s easier to change when you’re a small store with single-owners instead of a corporation because I can change my product line as easy as I want to.”
Like most businesses, Mud Puddle Toys fluxuates between high- and low-volume business days. Pollard said she and her husband really see a boom in business during the holiday season. They are apparently known for being able to identify the perfect gift for a child on the spot once given their age. Pollard said she just has a sense with some customers, calling it a “toy sense.”
“I just like seeing the kids come in and the interactions I’ve had with people,” she said. “I also love when I go to places, like the grocery store, and kids see me and whisper to their parents, ‘There she is, there’s the toy store lady.’”
Cassie Watt and her husband James purchased the building at 1 Pleasant St. a year ago after falling in love with Marblehead and its unique toy store. The couple would come in a few times a week with their children, 4-year-old Maggie and 1-year-old George, and pick out either a toy or a game as a family.
Watt said she considers the shop a “third space,” outside of work and home, where her family feels comfortable. Walking distance from their home, Mud Puddle Toys isn’t the only business in the building the Watts manage. The location, right in the center of “Old Town,” is home to Seamsters Local, an artist, a painter, a photographer, an interior decorator, an architect, and two creative firms doing website design.
“There was a period in time where a lot of toy stores went under and now I think they’re having a bit of a renaissance,” said Cassie Watt.